The Centre on Friday told the Delhi High Court that checks and balance had been put in place for electronic surveillance by government agencies, which was only through lawful interceptions and monitoring.
The court was hearing a petition filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan that claimed that the citizens’ right to privacy was endangered by surveillance systems like the Centralised Monitoring System, Network Traffic Analysis, and National Intelligence Grid.
Bhushan, appearing for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, told the court that the central government was tapping into people’s personal information like purchases, travel, WhatsApp conversations, messages and so on.
“We have presented prima facie evidence. We need a completely new regulation for this kind of surveillance,” he told a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, which then asked him to file an affidavit by March 19.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, told the court that generalised statements have been made in the petition.
“Specific instance and class of aggrievement are not cited,” he said, assuring that the legal provisions were fully in place.
Expanding on the surveillance systems, he told the court: “There is lawful interception and monitoring. The system is designed to have in-built checks and balances vis-a-vis law enforcement agencies.”
“A review committee under the Cabinet and Chief Secretaries of the respective states are requested to review the cases of interception once in two months. After six months, these will be destroyed.”
The ASG said that it was incorrect to say that the systems allowed law enforcement agencies to bypass existing procedural safeguards, and that these were rather strengthened and safeguarded.
“The checks are introduced at the level of telegraph authority to verify that all the interception carried out by law enforcement agencies have due approvals; it strengthens the checks-and-balances mechanism,” Sharma said.
The CPIL plea claimed that these surveillance systems allowed central and state law enforcement agencies to intercept and monitor all telecommunications in bulk, which was an infringement on the Fundamental Right to privacy of individuals.